Editor's note: Mike Scotti served as a U.S. Marine in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, and is a founding board member of Reserve Aid, a military-themed, nonprofit charity. He is the founder of the Military Veterans Club at the NYU Stern School of Business and is the subject of the documentary film "Severe Clear," which opens in New York on Friday. … "A few days after I had returned from a six-month deployment to Iraq, my second sojourn in the Middle East since 2001, I remember feeling like I was an alien creature from some other planet. It was 2003, and I was attending a friend's wedding. As I sat at the table listening to the conversation, I suddenly realized that someone who had never been in combat could never even remotely understand what I had just been through. I looked around. The chamber music quartet, the beautiful bridesmaids, the steak dinner … none of it was real. My buddies were, at that moment, probably on patrol and quite possibly engaged with the enemy. That was real. And as for the other guests at the table who were staring at me in my dress blues, we were no longer even the same species." – CNN
Dominant Social Theme: The loneliness and alienation is real.
Free-Market Analysis: We found the article, excerpted above, to be most sad, though our collective hats are off to Mike Scotti for the good work he is trying to do in helping vets readapt to civilian life. We cannot tell what Scotti thinks of the war efforts in Afghanistan or Iraq, but certainly his pain is real and shared by thousands who find it hard to live in a peaceful society after the stresses of war. While the article itself was interesting, if sad, the commentary beneath the article was just as enlightening in our opinion. Two feedbacks stood out, and we reproduce them below:
JoeCucaracha … The problem, Mike, is that differently from WWII, the war in Iraq and Afghanistan is not seen as a "just" war, as it was back in the 40's.You went there convinced that you were serving America, but the perception back home is that you were there serving Haliburton's interest, in an economic war.
waltwalt85 … Wow, this dude hit the nail on the head. I've been a civilian for almost two years now and I've had enough. I re-enlisted and will be reporting back in two weeks. As a former Staff Sergeant of the 2-2 Infantry once put it, "the bleacher seats s*ck balls". Everytime I see a news report coming out of A-stan or Iraq I feel like I'm missing out. I'm ready to say "adios" to the 9-5 grind, the emptiness of another night in front of the TV, all of it. And although I want us to be successful over there, I worry about what the heck I'm going to do with myself once these wars are over. Can we invade Iran next? (that's a joke people…sort of).
The first feedback (which was deleted by CNN, which is why we don't have the whole post) made the case that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been profoundly polarizing for America (and for Europe as well) – and that many in the US are uneasy over the aggressive levels of patriotism that the military and its political backers seem to demand, as well as the ever-shifting rationales for the invasions themselves.
Those who would share this sentiment would no doubt point out that the American military these days is voluntary and that no one forced Scotti to join or serve a tour of duty. The rejoinder is of course that money alone could not motivate someone to risk his or her life and that it must be love of country. But what exactly is the country that is being loved? America in the 21st century (and Britain, too) ironically has less and less freedom even as its leadership proclaims that Iraq and eventually Afghanistan will have more and more. But if the end result, even in Afghanistan, is a bankrupt nation-state with sky-high taxes, price inflation, regulation that makes industrial or entrepreneurial activities difficult, and a bloated public sector that has nationalized everything of consequence, then what's the point?
The second feedback feeds into the first. This young man obviously does not find much meaning in modern American civilian life. In fact, life under a mercantilist central-banking fiat-money regime can be hollow. As the power elite seeks to consolidate wealth and authority, most or all elements of society are eventually compromised. People lead inauthentic lives of quiet desperation because they have to make a living, even though they know they are not truly contributing to the general welfare of society – or even furthering their own family's prospects, generationally.
Public school teachers, for instance, must know that public schools inevitably devolve because of lack of competition and that private facilities are preferable. Yet many may continue to work at American public schools nonetheless. Those who work in various government jobs know how much corruption and waste takes place, but may continue in their positions nonetheless in order to earn a steady paycheck. Stockbrokers know that modern investing is a casino. Policemen and firemen know all the budgetary games that are played and how the rhetoric often has little to do with reality of what someone does day-to-day. And so it goes. Financial planners, insurance salesmen, lawyers, accountants, many businesspeople, even those in the health care profession are all compromised to a greater or lesser degree by what they see around them on a daily basis – and of course the activities that they must participate in to earn a living.
The same monetary mechanism that supports so much misery in people's internal lives is at work in the wars that America and its allies are pursuing. These are not wars, contrary to popular belief, to merely enrich a privileged few corporations and moguls. They are likely wars of conquest intended to project the power and authority of the Anglo-American empire abroad. Those soldiers participating in them are thus furthering a certain kind of governance. And when the soldiers come home wounded or psychologically damaged the sad truth is that they have sacrificed their health for a society that is becoming more hostile to the individual freedoms that they have sought to instill elsewhere.
The support that soldiers provide to the Anglo-American regime – voluntarily, and presumably out of love of country – is in fact part of the modern, military dilemma. In fact, the corporatism, militarism and increased authoritarianism that mark the Western world today are not vitiated by a young person's sacrifice in Afghanistan or Iraq. Thus, the best way to deal with the isolation and mal-adjustment felt by soldiers like Scotti is to reduce Western wars to that of defense rather than offense. Then not so many young people will serve or be damaged. And the dangerous differences that are apparently building up between "soldiers" and "civvies" will be mitigated.
Perhaps the wrong wars are being fought. Maybe the real wars that ought to be waged – firmly and without violence – should be ones against systems of governance and economics that gradually remove people's freedoms to live and work as they choose, and to retain wealth and build lives of hope and promise for their families. Unlike shooting wars, they can have more predictable and lasting ramifications.